Renewal of Lautenberg Amendment Brings Hope for Ukrainian Family Reunification

By Ayelet Parness, HIAS.org

Renewal of Lautenberg Amendment Brings Hope for Ukrainian Family Reunification

A woman holds a sign as demonstrators rally in support of Ukraine in Times Square, New York, on March 12, 2022.

(Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

Good news for Ukrainians looking to reunite with family in the United States is buried in a 2,700-page omnibus spending bill.

The bill, which President Biden signed into law Tuesday, March 15, allocates $1.5 trillion to fund federal government agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year. It also renews the Lautenberg Amendment, a program first included in the 1989 Foreign Operations appropriations bill.

The Lautenberg Amendment provides a pathway for members of historically persecuted religious groups from Ukraine and other countries in the former Soviet Union to be reunited with family members already living in the U.S. In 2004, the amendment was expanded to include religious minorities from Iran, including Jews, Christians, Baha’is, Sabaean-Mandaeans, and Zoroastrians. Over the years, HIAS has brought thousands of people to safety using the Lautenberg program.

“We are thankful that the Lautenberg amendment was renewed again – and at just the right time,” said Naomi Steinberg, vice president for policy and advocacy at HIAS. “Ukrainian Americans and their loved ones are waiting desperately to be reunited in safety in the United States, and the renewal of the Lautenberg amendment is an important first step to making this a reality.”

As of the bill’s signing, more than 3 million people had already fled Ukraine in response to the ongoing conflict, largely finding refuge in neighboring countries such as Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. 

“The size and the scope of the Ukrainian refugee crisis can feel overwhelming,” said Steinberg. “But bringing Ukrainian families together through the Lautenberg program is a key way that the United States can help.”

While the renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment will allow some Ukrainians to reunite with their families in the U.S., HIAS is advocating for the U.S. government to do more to aid Ukrainian refugees.

“There are thousands of Ukrainians already registered with the U.S. refugee program who have close family members here,” HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield wrote in a recent Op-Ed on CNN.com. “Let them in. Don't make them wait in limbo in Europe.”

Want to take action? Ask the Biden Administration to keep Ukrainian families together here.